Sound Shapes level design contest – Week 1 results – Week 2 submissions

So our first week of our prizeless Sound Shapes level design contest has come to a close and it’s been rather interesting. In a lot of ways what we are seeing playing random levels in-game is very similar to the early days of LittleBigPlanet with a bunch of garbage, “tests” and people who just don’t understand basic gameplay elements.  That is one reason I wanted to start this contest, to give people who have an inkling of what they are doing a forum to show it off to the world.  And by “the world” I mean “the couple hundred people who stop by here everyday.”

So what did we find?  Good stuff, actually.  Everything submitted was at the very least playable – which puts it about 10 bars higher than the rest of the Sound Shapes community currently. Also, Camus and I didn’t have a chance to talk all weekend long but when we caught up we had the same two levels picked – so it’s safe to say the choices were unanimous.  What wasn’t was what category they should go in.  Both are strong in music and gameplay and could be flipped if you wanted.

But before we get to the winners lets discuss what set them apart.  The biggest problem that we ran across in the majority of these levels was an EXTREME lack of checkpoints.  There is nothing more deflating than making it across a few tricky sections and then dying over something stupid only to learn you are back 5 screens and have to do it all over again.  Likewise a good number of the levels had sections that just sucked the life out of the experience.  There were levels that with some polish could be absolute classics, but I would get to certain spots and die 20 times in a row.  I replayed these levels several times thinking maybe I was coming at these sections the wrong way – and who knows, maybe I was – but I never figured them out.  It just took a bit of dumb luck to get through and that was that.

So lets just drop the pretense of one of these levels being better at music and one being better at level design and just call them co winners.  That’s easier, right?   The winners are:

Man-is-Obsolete with The Fall and Rise

 

Madriiax with Fever Dream

The Fall and Rise is a Super Bros. heavy level that is a rather mellow voyage.  It’s not afraid to use sparse rooms or rely on atmosphere to usher you through the 4 to 8 minute voyage.  But as soon as you start to feel comfortable Man-is-Obsolete is not afraid to create insane contraptions that want to murder you over and over.  I don’t mind dying a lot if I feel like there is a fair way to beat the challenge and The Fall and Rise does this without feeling cheap.  Overall this is a wonderful journey and you can tell that Man-is-Obsolete put a lot of time and effort into this.

Fever Dream is a more abstract level as the name would indicate.  The name setting the tone is important as a lesser level may not be able to get away with having such strange zones right next to each other but for whatever reason it works here.  There are a few parts to test your skills but there is never a checkpoint too far behind.  And both Man-is-Obsolete and Madriiax may have noticed that I had the slowest time on their leaderboards and the reason for that is I would just sit in certain sections and listen to the music. Madriiax in particular had some crazy beats while Man had some chilling atmospherics.  Both were brilliant.

So that’s it for this week one.  Congrats, fellas.  Everyone else post your levels down below for week two, Camus and I will be judging you.

 

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Sound Shapes level creation contest for 8/15

Idea:  Comment below (you don’t even have to sign up, just put a name in the field) with a link to your Sound Shapes level and what name you want credited (your psn?  your real name?).   Camus and/or I will play them all and we will pick two winners.  Best music and best platforming.  On Wednesday, 8/15 we will post the winners – helping shine a spotlight on some.

Why Wednesday:  Because traffic for the site goes down on the weekend and we want the winners each week to get the most exposure possible.

So this is on-going:  Yes, totally.  I can’t say for how long, but for the forseeable future, yes.  And it will always be announced Wednesday night, unless madness strikes our personal lives.

What do you get:  Me?  Well, traffic I guess.  And an audience engaged with the site.  But really, this comes from personally having put an insane amount of time into building things in LBP, Modnation or even PC editors back in the day – so I know the frustration that comes from having something good that just isn’t getting exposure.  I also get to subtlety drop my own levels on the site with less guilt.

What do I get:  No prize, unfortunately, as we don’t even make money from this site (in fact it costs money, but boohoo another day).  What you will get is people playing your level, hopefully.  In July we had 10,000 visitors to the site, so the traffic will be there.  Lets see if people care enough to check out the winners.  There is the possibility that if this takes off we may do a PSN card prize for the overall winner for a set period of time.  But for now let’s just start with exposure…

What if this site sucks and the levels get no exposure:  Well, we tried.  Right?

What if it’s a huge success:  Everyone wins, and we will do the same for LBP-V.

 

Post below.  I understand the servers are down currently but I’m gonna go on the assumption that they will be fixed this weekend.  Crazy, I know…

Sony Remembers Vita Exists, Decides to Start Integrating PlayStation Plus

Originally Posted By Carlos Macias

Hey, did you hear about this? While we weren’t looking, apparently, Sony decided to start throwing Vita owners a bone and integrated PlayStation Plus benefits last week with slashed prices for Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Virtua Tennis 4, and Hustle Kings.

PlayStation Plus membership crossover is something that’s been requested since Vita’s launch in February and finally Sony came around to implementing it. It’s the small things like the occasional price cuts that have created a great value for loyal PlayStation owners and have made it exciting to follow PSN updates week to week on PS3.

And, while this editorial could have been written last week, I decided to give Sony a chance to impress me with continued PlayStation Plus goodies and to demonstrate how serious they are about said membership integration into the PS Vita’s digital offerings.

This week’s game updates to the Vita store front were Foosball 2012, Puddle, and…Canabalt?* Um, yeah, as Pete so aptly tweeted earlier in the week, those games aren’t exactly “barn burners,” but what’s interesting is that Foosball 2012, during its week of release, saw an immediate lowered price deal and that signifies good things to come, in my opinion, for future Vita digital releases.

While $2 may not seem like the biggest deal to the more affluent gamers out there, it’s sufficient enough for me to consider purchasing Foosball at $5.99 (against the regular $7.99) and even Hot Shots saw a significant enough price cut to $17 — cheaper than its going rate of $20 on Amazon.

The last couple weeks of updates hopefully foreshadows a Sony fully leveraging its online store to keep Vita owners glued to the system. One that quickly expands and gives way to more incredible downloadable games — especially since there’s little to be excited for retail-wise in the coming months.

The next big titles on the board are Sound Shapes on August 7th, at a discounted price for PS Plus members, and then…well, not much else until September with the likes of LittleBigPlanet and possibly PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.

Sony needs to pile on the temporary deals and entice Vita owners with downloadable titles during the summer lull with more than just quick and dirty “look at all these Rockstar games we managed to get on the PSP!” ports.

I’ve yet to be fully convinced, but here’s hoping that the coming weeks of downloadable Vita titles fulfill Sony’s “never stop playing” mantra and PlayStation Plus benefits are a great first step to that end.

*Yes, I know that Pete’s been playing the awesomeness that is Wizorb (originally available on Xbox Live Indie Games), but since it’s not on the store front ready for download — you have to use your PS3 to transfer the download to Vita — I disregarded it as an “official” Vita release. I’m hoping that it at least makes it over in less time than the Velocity minis game, which launched on PS3/PSP weeks ago!

Total Conjecture: What I would love to see Sony do with the Vita in the near and long term.

News broke late last night that the rumored deal to buy Gaikai had finally gone through. The ramifications of this are huge, of course, if Sony uses the technology to it’s fullest.  But this is Sony we’re talking about, so let’s not hold our breath.  But long before the Gaikai thing became real (by long before i mean about 2 days) I decided my next article after the Batman review would be what I, random Vita fan #564, would do if I was in charge of Sony. The Gaikai thing is good timing of course as it adds much more to the table.

So lets pretend I am Bob Sony (which I’m pretty sure if the Americanization of the name Kaz Hirai) and I can make unilateral decisions in regards to anything within Sony.  Here’s what I would do going forward.

1.  I’ve been saying for a while now that August made the most sense for the Vita to drop price.  Nintendo seemingly knows this and will be releasing the 3DS-XL in early August.  So I think Sony should jump the gun and drop price in July.  Why July?  Well, 3DS sales are going to be abysmal going into August, I would assume, as everyone waits on the new model, so with a price drop Sony could actually win the month.  Not that winning a single month will change the tide of the war (and nor do I think Sony will win this war, they will always be in second place and that’s fine as long as it’s still successful enough to make Sony money and give us games we want to play).  But winning July would be a reprieve for the general narrative against the Vita that it’s doomed.  Could you imagine a world where, for one month, it wasn’t?  If not July, do it in September.  Don’t do it in August against the 3DS-XL.

2.  At $199 I would include a 4gb card.  The fact that this thing ships without memory is absurd.  It needs to be fixed.

3. With the advent of 4gb being shipped with it, all memory gets dropped down a slot.  8gb at $19.99, 16gb at $29.99, 32gb at $59.99 and a new sku of 64gb at $99.  Again, I know this means Sony makes less money on memory cards alone, but I’ve always thought the absurd prices for memory is a short-term money grab with no long-term aspirations.  The more memory a customer has the more likely they are going to be to buy digitally, which – again – is where Sony makes the most profit.  They should be handing out 500TB memory cards and begging people to go digital only.  There’s far more money in that in the long-term.  Even now, hanging out in places like Neogaf I see an awful lot of “I would buy that digitally but it’s 3gb and I only have an 8gb card.”  Stop shooting yourself in the foot, Sony.

4. Along with us having more, cheaper memory, PS+ needs to become a force on the system.  Weekly sales on digital Vita games, PSP games and Minis.  Get us in the habit, like you have with the PS3, to just keep buying digital games because we can’t afford not to at these prices!  It’s the Steam effect.  You may not want Shinobido 2 in the slightest but a one week sale for PS+ customers for $9.99 and goddamnit now I own Shinobido 2.  But this only works if I have the space available on my card.  Have I mentioned that Sony really needs to sort the memory card situation?

5.  Other things that need to happen with PS+ on the vita is cloud saves, as the game save situation currently is an abortion.  Other features like automatic trophy syncing (only if the system is plugged in during its chosen window), automatic game and firmware updates, and making the aforementioned cloud saves automatic are also needed.

6.  Increase the digital discount of games to 30% for PS+ subscribers.  Really, it should be 30% for everyone, since we aren’t getting a box, instructions and the publisher isn’t paying for the production of any of that stuff, shipping or the retail store’s cut (though obviously they are paying a cut to Sony). But 10% is a joke.  If you want people to go digital, and Sony – YOU DO WANT PEOPLE TO GO DIGITAL – you need to give them a reason to do so.

7.  The next major firmware update which is scheduled to come in during August will likely do many things to make the overall experience of using the Vita more pleasant. I’m hoping it includes under the hood fixes to things like having to connect to the PSN a hundred thousand times.  Also, PSone Classics are going to be a big deal.  But going forward from here I would like to see Sony work on making asynchronous play much easier.  It works, kinda, with Hustle Kings and Pure Chess, but it’s sloppy and confusing.  On iOS you get notifications right on the app, you just open it up and you’re in and playing your turn.  I think this style of game is the future of handheld multiplayer and I think Sony needs to figure it out.

8. One last PS+ for Vita request.  Do the same “Instant game collection” that they are doing for the PS3, but for the vita make it 9 games.  3 Vita games, 3 PSP games, 3 PSone classics.

9.  Once PSone Classics are out I put the emulation team on double time getting PS2 emulation running on the device.

10.  Further refine the PSP emulator.  If they could add more anti-aliasing than just what bilinear filtering offers that would be huge for Image Quality.

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Ok, let’s get to Gaikai.  I personally think that the acquisition of Gaikai could be an absolutely windfall of awesomeness for the entire Playstation family.  Here’s what I would do:

1.  Forget winning the console wars of next-gen in terms of units sold.  If I’m Bob Sony I look at it this way:  I want my games on everything.  So get Gaikai up and running on everything and anything Sony related.  Smart TVs, Vaio PC and Laptops, Sony Android Tablets, Sony Smartphones, and, of course, the Vita.

2.  All games are available across all of those devices.  So lets say Uncharted 4 comes out.  If you want the absolute top of the line best image quality, lowest latency way to play it you buy it for the PS4.  And that’s what most of us would do.  But you also offer it, at the same price, streamed across multiple devices.  I think you limit the licence to 2 devices per purchase (like the current PSN setup).  So, say, I buy Uncharted 4 on the PS3 but I also stream it using the Gaikai back-end to my Vita for free.  And maybe have a special price to have it on everything for power-users.

What this will do is raise sales of PS4 software because you won’t actually need to own a PS4 to play it. In fact, they could even stream PS4 games to a PS3 using this technology.  None of it, of course, will be the same as actually owning the system, and most hardcore gamers will still own the PS4 and buy games directly for that.  But, giving someone with a tablet or phone the opportunity to buy the game, at $60, is a pretty big deal in terms of sales.  The thing to consider here is that hardware manufacturers don’t make money off of hardware sales, typically. They make money off of licensing and profits from software.  So the more avenues you give someone to buy your software the higher your upside is.

What this means in terms of the Vita cannot be understated.  Right now we have a few games that offer cloud saves (or transfarring if you’re Konami) and allow you to hop back and forth between the Vita version and the PS3 version.  Now imagine if you could do that with EVERY game in the entire Playstation catalogue (PS1-PS4).  Cloud gaming, cloud saves, just continue from where you last saved.  It would be amazing.

This would, of course, slow development of Vita-specific software, especially bigger products like what we’re expecting with Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty this fall.  But I don’t think it would slow development of the smaller games, the indies like Mutant Blob and Velocity. Also, you would think that the sales of the Vita would go through the roof when people who own a PS4 realize “hey, if I buy a vita I instantly have a giant library for it with everything I own on my PS4.”  And, of course, there are plenty of times when your Vita isn’t online.  So a bigger install base and a niche to fill (the void between Wifi signals) would mean that there would still be a reason for typical Vita software.  It can be a slow trickle.  Maybe one big game per month.  But that’s all we would really need.

3.  And, of course, using cloud gaming over 3G isn’t going to work for much other than the most rudimentary casual games.  So my first revision of the Vita would include 4G LTE.  I have 25MB down cable internet and my friend with 4G got better speeds at my house on his phone.  The tech is coming to make all of this a reality.

So, as Bob Sony, these are the steps I would take to Vita success.  There are obviously other routes to success as well.  Feel free to add your own (or rip mine apart) in the comments below.

A comprehensive and spin-free breakdown of system launches since 2004

We have one more week of releases until the Vita has hit the 4 month mark in the US a few days later (June 22nd, of course).  During this time we’ve seen a fair amount of “VITA HAS NO GAMES” by clever folks on the internet who like to parrot lines without using their brains. If you own a Vita and have spent some time looking you know this isn’t true. Well, like any other system, if you don’t like the games that’s one thing.  One could say “PC HAS NO GAMES!!!” even though there’s at least 20 releases a week on Steam – if they hate PC games.  That’s an absurd stance to take in an argument. But we will get into how these games are viewed critically as well.

We have no idea if any smaller games are going to pop up on the store later tonight (as of the time of this writing the update with Gravity Rush and MGS HD isn’t up) or next week, so we will go off the assumption that they won’t.  I’m also going to be working off the assumption that Lego Batman will release next week, though the addition of that one game will not have any major impact on what I’m about to lay out in front of you.

There is no argument that I prefer the Playstation systems. I like to think I’m a reasoned man but I’ve seen men more mature than me devolve into fanboy arguments and I certainly have as well. My aim with this piece is not that. This is purely to get the numbers out there.

So instead of being long-winded lets just look at the first four months of releases for each system out since the Nintendo DS in 2004, according to Metacritic and Wikipedia.

Games released in first four months (in North America only):

Wii: 60   (includes retail and Virtual Console)

Vita: 48 (includes retail and PSN), (Does not include minis)

Xbox 360: 46 (includes retail and XBLA), (XBLIG didn’t exist during this time frame)

3DS: 40  (includes retail, Virtual Console, built-in OS games, and Wiiware games)

PS3:  34 (includes retail and PSN)  (Minis did not exist during this time period)

PSP: 29 (only includes retail as there were no download only titles or Minis during this time period)

DS: 17 (only includes retail as there were no Virtual Console or Wiiware titles during this time period)

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Right.  So there we have it.  Facts.  Math.  Science. Numbers. Whatever you want to call it. Though one can argue (and probably should argue) that it’s not how many games you have, it’s the quality of the games. Each system has shovelware, no doubt about it. For the Vita this is mostly in the form of the A.R. games (of which there are 4, though I really like the Tank one) but the early days of the PSN and XBLA have some absolutely horrid titles in there as well.  And even the most ardent Nintendo fan can’t argue that the vast majority of the 50 Wii games out in the first four months are any good.   The Wii’s numbers are a bit skewed because none of the Virtual Console games got enough reviews to get tracked.  But take heart Nintendo fans, we know your favorite company has the most brilliant catalog of old games in the business.  This piece is about numbers though, not opinions (even if I just gave some *cough*).

So of the lists above, lets break down how many of each has a Metacritic of 70% or higher.

Wii:  60 games — 15 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher.

Vita: 48 games —  21 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher.

360: 46 games — 33 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher

3DS: 40 games — 11 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher  (note that all three versions of Nintendogs were counted individually)

PS3: 34 games — 20 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher

PSP:  29 games — 17 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher

DS:  17 games — 5 with a Metacritic of 70% or higher

So what should we take from all of these numbers? I am going to write an opinion piece on it shortly as I wanted to have this just be about the numbers, but a few things are clear. The Vita has the second most games and it has the second most games with a metacritic of 70% or higher in the 4 month time period after launch.  The meme “VITA HAS NO GAMES!” is factually incorrect, unless that person also feels that every system in the last 8 years also had no games.

Another fact that even someone who despises Microsoft can’t ignore…  they had one helluva launch and by far had the most critically acclaimed games.  The DS, compared to the others, had a horrendous launch. But if we look at lifetime sales of all the systems above, the DS is head and shoulders above the rest.

The numbers are interesting and I will be breaking them down further.  But here they are now, in their naked glory.